Modern football is a big money pursuit but only a few lucky and wealthy people get the chance to run a football club. Often when they shell out large sums of money they want their club to be a representation of them. In Chelsea and Roman Abramovich’s case it is big spending, and an elitist view that only the best will do. Leicester’s owners place large amounts of their Thai heritage around the club. For one team in the lower divisions of English football however, the owner has had an even larger impact.
Forest Green Rovers are a small team in the National League based in Gloucestershire, UK. They were bought by owner Dale Vince in 2010 and the millionaire green entrepreneur has overhauled the entire club to his way of thinking. That way of thinking is green energy. Dale Vince is a leader of the green industrial revolution in the UK and owns the company Ecotricity, who make wind turbines. Not only is he involved heavily in renewable energy, but he has also made electric sports cars and is a staunch Vegan.
When he became the new owner of Forest Green Rovers, Vince instantly set about changing its values. The businessman is not only a proprietor of industrial machinery, but was previously a new age traveler, and this ‘hippie’ vibe has come to Forest Green Rovers. In one of his first decisions as owner he banned meat being served inside the stadium, only allowing vegan products for sale during match days.
Their ground New Lawn was also dramatically changed despite only having moved in for the 2007 season. 180 solar panels were added to the building, which created 10% of the stadium’s energy requirements. On the pitch their famous black and white stripes were replaced with green, and a new badge in 2012 was unveiled to represent the change in direction the club were taking.
Technology is an important part of Dale Vince’s philosophy and the club is using a robot lawn mower to cut the grass, which of course is also an organic pitch. They have won many prizes for their innovative groundsmanship. A ‘Moneyball’ system was also applied to signing players. Computer generated algorithms helped select specific players to sign who were excelling in certain areas they wanted.
The progressiveness off the pitch has not been matched on the pitch with the club playing in the National League (previously the conference) for the last 11 years. They are hoping to turn over a new leaf, however with the next step in Dale Vince’s plan underway.
A combination project of his Ecotricity business and Forest Green Rovers is underway with an Eco Park. The park, which will cost £100m, is set on 100 acres of Gloucestershire greenery. It will be a hub of green business as well as the new home for the football club. It is thought the new sport science labs will attract Olympians looking for competitive advantage. Plans are underway for an exciting brand-new ground.
The new stadium has been designed by Zaha Hadid and will be the first all wooden football stadia in the world. Vince set out his vision and gave the reasons to why a change like this is needed for him: “We’ve done as much as we can to make our current stadium properly sustainable but we are limited with what we can do. It simply wasn’t built with the environment in mind. At Eco Park, we’ve started with a blank sheet of paper and we’ll be going further than anyone has done before. This really will be the greenest football stadium in the world.”
It looks like there is no stopping the Forest Green Rovers in their pursuit of finding grass that is greener, but unless they can do it on the pitch, people might not hear the message. What Dale Vince is doing is certainly revolutionary and he will be hoping clubs will be utilising the same methods, to introduce a new way football clubs can be run.